A tale of two file sharers

The Recording Industry Association of America better be making money these days, because they’re certainly not making any friends. In contrast, everyone likes Radiohead — they’re making both money and friends, while giving us a glimpse of how great the world could be without record corporations and bloated dinosaurs like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Last week the RIAA sued a single mother in Minnesota for allowing people to download 24 songs off her computer. A jury of her peers (yeah, right) somehow decided that she should pay a penalty of $222,000 to the RIAA — which works out to about $9,250 a song. That’s about $9,249 more than she would have had to pay at iTunes.

I get what the RIAA is doing. Record sales are way down, while the number of people downloading music illegally off peer-to-peer networks is up. The RIAA want to make an example of the few people they catch to discourage others from downloading music for free, or sharing the music they bought freely with others.

The recording industry will tell you that it’s in your best interest to go along with their pogrom. Their industry is suffering they’ll say, which means that labels just won’t have the resources to discover and develop fine new talents like Ashlee Simpson and Sisqo. You, the listener, will suffer horribly.

The RIAA will also tell you that illegal downloading is affecting artists, although in my opinion music that’s outside of the mainstream is better than it’s been in a long time. I would go as far as to say that illegal downloading may be affecting artists in a good way — maybe low record sales are what forced David Lee Roth to reunite with Van Halen, for Sting to get back with The Police, Flava Flave with Public Enemy, Frank Black with the Pixies, Zach de la Rocha back with Rage Against the Machine. Now we’re hearing that a reunited Guns ’N Roses may go on tour with the Stone Temple Pilots. When royalties suffer, bands get back to playing live.

But I digress. As I was trying to say, the music industry will try to tell you that it’s always been there, since the first Victrola rolled off the assembly line. It’s the Alpha and Omega of music, the first and last, a natural and necessary link between musicians and the public. Music, they’ll say, is impossible without a music industry.

Except that’s never really been the case. The Grateful Dead were one of the biggest earning bands of all time, and they created their own record company and managed themselves. Phish was never played on mainstream radio stations, but still managed to sell more concert tickets than any other band any summer they were on tour.

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